Mitt Romney stunned Barack Obama in their debate last week, in part by ditching the persona of a movement conservative -- vowing not to reduce taxes for the rich, to protect education funding, highlighting his willingness to work across the aisle, and so on. It was a deft move, one that clearly has caught off balance an Obama campaign that was counting on running against the unpopular agenda of Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan. As New York Times columnist David Brooks put it, "Moderate Mitt" -- the successful businessman and technocratic governor of Massachusetts -- has returned.
On Monday, Romney is due to give a speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute. Can he do the same?
I have my doubts. For one thing, making a pivot to the center on foreign policy would entail embracing Obama's position even tighter than Romney already has. If you strip aside the bluster, Romney's foreign policy looks much like Obama's. Why give a big speech if you're just going to explain that you more or less agree with the other guy? Nuance doesn't sell in an election year.
Second, the Obama administration's stumbles on Benghazi offer a pretty tempting target, and it's clear that Romney will try to hit the president hard on Libya. Never mind that Romney's been all over the yard on the Libyan war, or that the kinds of austerity budgets he and his running mate favor imply deep cuts in diplomatic security -- the death of an ambassador is evidently too good an opportunity to pass up. Mitt Romney has probably never thought about Libya a day in his life -- but he'll be all over it tomorrow.
Finally, what issues could he reasonably pivot on? Would he say that he'd try to work with Russia on smoothing the U.S. path out of Afghanistan? That he'd take military force off the table in dealing with Iran and vow not to entangle the United States in Syria's civil war? That he'd push hard for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and seek to de-escalate tensions with China?
It's hard to imagine any of those things happening -- which is why I expect Romney's big speech will be more of the same: America good, strength good, military very good, Obama very bad.